Ericsson CTO expects VoLTE launch very soon, explains 'networked society' vision

with Ulf Ewaldsson, Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer, Ericsson

Ewaldsson (Source: Ericsson)

TOKYO--Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) has always embraced its role as a visionary when it comes to predicting where the telecom industry is heading.  The company invests heavily in R&D and believes that a large part of its role is to help guide its customers (telecom operators globally) on how to stay relevant in the rapidly changing tech world.

During the company's recent media and analyst conference held here, Ulf Ewaldsson, the company's senior vice president and CTO, talked with Sue Marek, editor in chief of FierceWirelessTech about 5G, the coming launch of VoLTE and the company's "network for a networked society" vision. The following is an excerpt of that interview.

FierceWireless:  LTE Broadcast is an interesting technology. Verizon has talked about it publicly and they have talked about doing something at the Super Bowl. Can you give me any insight into what you are doing with LTE Broadcast?

Ewaldsson: Broadcasting technology in the mobile space is going to be key to the future. We tried it with wideband-CDMA, we were a bit early there.  Not much happened with DVB-H either.  Broadcasting technology has lots of applications in wireless beyond just television. For example, we could duplicate operating systems on phones with this technology. 

I can't comment on Verizon's launch plans.  Technology wise, we are ready.  Our systems can do LTE broadcast now.  We have done a number of trials and demonstrated the technology.  It also has to do with penetration on the handsets. Any new technology we develop will have to be included on a certain number of devices to launch. There might not be volumes in the handsets.

It's up to the operators how they want to introduce the technology.  The networks are ready for LTE broadcast.   It was a big investment but the software is now in the networks or can be put in the networks.

FierceWireless:  VoLTE is another area we are watching closely. Several operators in the U.S. have talked about launching the technology soon but there have also been some delays.

Ewaldsson:  Currently there is circuit-switched fallback, which means you fall back from LTE.  That means the technology is camping on LTE. Should there not be enough coverage then it falls back to W-CDMA.  If there is not enough W-CDMA then it falls back to the GSM network.

The big concern is coverage. To make it a consistent service you need a certain amount of coverage on LTE.  All our customers have done trials on the technology and now we are waiting for the coverage to be good enough.   You will see announcements very, very soon on VoLTE happening in some key markets.

FierceWireless:  Are small cells a factor in VoLTE coverage?

Ewaldsson:  Not so much.  Where small cells are going there is not good coverage--indoors--so it is much more about macrocells.   When we talk about VoLTE we are talking about the macro network.

It's not good if you are on VoLTE and then because of coverage you have to drop back to W-CDMA and then come back to VoLTE.  It's all about customer experience. The whole driving force in VoLTE is customer experience. And also it is more spectrally efficient.

FierceWireless:  What is 5G?

Ewaldsson:  We don't know yet.

FierceWireless:  That was a trick question and you didn't fall for it.

Ewaldsson:  [laughing] I think it's so important for Ericsson to say that.   We want 5G to be an open project. We want openness.  METIS is a research project that we are spearheading in Europe. We are looking for a broader approach. We have players in METIS that are even from automotive industry, for example.

We see 5G as the 'network for the networked society.'  That means everything can be connected or communicated over the network. And we have defined networked society as one where everything that can benefit from a network will have one.

Today's LTE network is still built for smartphones.  We have to think about 5G differently.  Latency is critical.

FierceWireless:  To get the 'network for the networked society,' isn't spectrum going to be critical?

Ewaldsson:  Yes, spectrum is already a concern.

FierceWireless:  How is this vision realistic when spectrum is already a concern?

Ewaldsson: We have 350 MHz of spectrum on average globally allocated for wireless. In the U.S. there is more because the FCC has understood that.  Regulators become enablers rather than licensers.  In some markets that is more clearly understood.

Because of the strong web industry, the U.S. regulators understand that they have to make spectrum access available. But not all markets are like the U.S.

FierceWireless:  You are advocating a standard for 5G but we also know that 5G can be turned into a marketing term.

Ewaldsson:  Yes, I'm sure 5G will be a marketing term and we will see it launched soon. 4G was about network speeds.  At the end of the day, we have not really met the 4G requirements, which was 1 Gig downlink.   But it doesn't matter. 4G was approved by the ITU.  Therefore the vision is what is important and what is going to drive innovation in the industry.

We are looking at tough requirements for 5G with download speeds of up to 20 Gigabits and latency below 1 millisecond.

FierceWireless: What is the time frame for 5G?

Ewaldsson: We have said beyond 2020.  I think it's realistic to not push the envelope too fast. In 5G, Ericsson envisions that all technologies that we have will be evolved.

FierceWireless: What do you mean evolved?

Ewaldsson: LTE will still be usable.  One requirement from our customers is that they do not want to build another completely new network.  We will complement it with new technologies instead.

As we continue to grow, we will have to squeeze existing spectrum. So Ericsson has to invest in R&D to make the most of existing spectrum. We don't want radio transmitters out there using spectrum that is not necessary.